Caen Hill, Caen Hill flight, Caen Hill Locks, Canalling, Devizes, Gongoozling, Great Canal Journeys, Kennet and Avon Canal, Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, Marshfield ice cream, New Hampshire, Prunella Scales, Royal Berkshire Hospital, Timothy West, Wadworth Brewery, Wiltshire
Thwarted by a dead computer, it is only now that I can write up a very enjoyable day spent nearly two weeks ago with my ‘American’ cousin Geoff, his two daughters, Claire and Sophie, who live in New Hampshire, and his mother, Barbara, who lives in Berkshire. Sadly a last-minute problem meant that Geoff’s wife and their son were unable to make it over the Pond, so the party was somewhat depleted.
We had arranged to meet up in Wiltshire, as being about halfway between where I live, in Somerset, and Berkshire. Caen Hill is near Devizes. (‘Caen’ is pronounced ‘Cane’, not like the French town.) It is best known for its 29 locks, and in particular its ‘flight’ of 16, engineered by John Rennie the Elder and a scheduled monument, on the Kennet and Avon Canal, which links Reading and Bristol.
Constructed between 1794 and 1810, it was not long before the railways were serious and stronger rivals. Through lack of maintenance, most of the canal had become unnavigable by the mid-twentieth century. Some 35 years ago, when I was living in Reading and mad keen on canalling – and I still could be – I was a member of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, which had been formally constituted in 1962 from an informal group to bring the Canal back to life. Much of it had been restored by then, but the Herculean task of the flight had only just been started upon. The only time I had visited Caen Hill, before this month, had been in the 1980s, and it was then in a sad, derelict, sorry state.
Total restoration of the canal and all its works was not complete until 2003, but it was fully navigable by 1990, and formally reopened by HM Queen in that year. The first boat to do the complete trip was that of Sir Timothy West and his wife Prunella Scales (‘Great Canal Journeys‘). They had been founder members of the Trust. (And as it happens, I came across them as they were canalling near Hungerford in 2005, and drove them in my car to A and E at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, but that’s another story.)
I had last seen Geoff and co in New Hampshire in February 2018, and Barbara this January, so there was quite a lot to catch up on. We wandered downhill in one direction.
There was wildlife.
There were reflections.
Every lock was dedicated to someone or some group.
As we walked back up to our starting point, Geoff and the girls helped two women holidaying on a hired boat. It’s so good to have someone to do the locks!
As we went back up we had a good view of that central flight of 16 locks.
After lunch at the Trust’s café, we had a pleasant walk uphill into the town, with the intention of going round the Wadworth Brewery.
Unfortunately, when we got there we found the afternoon tour was full. So we sat around for a few minutes in the entrance hall, and reflected on what to do next. There were exhibits, including a rather detailed one on the beer-producing process – and lots of different beers on sale in presentation packs.
We decided to meander the mile back to the locks’ cafe, and to have a Marshfield (West Country speciality, highly recommended) ice cream, before dispersing.
A lovely family get-together, blessed by the weather.